SUN Hockey Pool

Somethin' special?

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:49 AM ET

Craig MacTavish is a very bright guy who usually weighs his words carefully and is seldom prone to getting overly optimistic or exceptionally excited about anything.

But yesterday, about 10 minutes after word came down that Kevin Lowe had sealed the deal to sign Sam Gagner to start the season along with Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Tom Gilbert, the Edmonton coach came oh so close.

ERUPTED

Down the hall the Oiler players, veterans and fellow young talents on training wheels, erupted in a cheer for Gagner in the post-practice dressing room.

MacTavish said the players can sense there is something special happening here.

"It brings the optimism up, for sure," he said of having four high-end skill players making the team together as toddlers.

He said the players can all sense "there's the making of something real memorable here. If you get that skill with players willing to play hard and sacrifice, we're going to have something special."

He said there's suddenly a foundation here which gives you that feeling of deja vu - "something we've seen here in the past when a young team comes together collectively."

It was there that he stopped himself from going where no hockey person should ever go, comparing what's happening here in 2007 with what happened with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri and the glory gang which MacTavish himself would later join to win Stanley Cups in the 1980s.

"I don't want to make those comparisons," he said without mentioning those names.

But he continued to make his point.

"These young players can feed off each other," he said. "They can have some fun together and it can be infectious to everybody. I think the veterans like it. It brings a lot of energy to that room."

Cogliano was excited for Gagner and for the rest of the kiddie corps.

"It's great to have a bunch of young guys like this. Gag is already a pretty good friend."

It also makes next week's rookie dinner on the road a little cheaper with so many rookies. Nilsson has enough games that he technically isn't a rookie. But he says he fits with them.

"I like it. I think this is going to be fun for all the old guys and all the young guys."

MacTavish, who gets the reputation of wanting his teams to play in his image of a defensive, checking forward, says he's seen this show before and he knows you have to let the young thoroughbreds run.

"You need players who can be in the top 10 scorers in the league," he said of Gagner's upside. "It's all about evaluating what you have as a coach and making game plans around it. It's all about what you can create versus what you give up."

Gagner, who could still end up back in junior after nine games here, said he can't wait to prove he's an NHLer with the rest of the young guns.

SKILLED

"I think it's pretty special," he said of breaking in with other top-end talents. "We have a lot of skilled young players and it's going to be great to have a chance to be part of that now. This should be a good team for a long time to come.

"The competition between all the young guys is going to push everybody as long as it's healthy. I think we'll just make each other work that much harder."

Gagner is only 18. But he may be the oldest kid of them all mentally.

Having grown up around NHLers when dad Dave played in the league, he's not in awe of big league hockey stars. And he has both skates planted firmly on the ice.

When asked about the first thing he's going to buy with his contract money, he said he'd get his just-turned-16 sister a car. But he'd probably keep driving his 2003 model for a while himself.

"I believe that you stay here when you believe you belong here," said MacTavish, who added that after being the MVP of the Super Series and having a terrific training camp, he believes Gagner believes he belongs here.

If I was the London Knights, I wouldn't be expecting to see him back. And if I was an Edmonton Oilers fan, I'd start to get excited about what could happen here. This might turn out to be a day to remember.

It won't be Gretzky and the gang all over again. But it could be something special.


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